With winter well upon us, my attention has inevitably turned to food – with game pie, mushroom risotto and pumpkin soup being just some of the things I won’t be cooking because I prefer to survive on a diet of Coco Pops and Tenants Extra.
In truth, food occupies my mind no matter what time of year it is, and I honestly think grub is the main reason I do triathlons at an age when I should just be wearing slippers and obsessing about the parking space outside my house. The sheer volume of my food consumption is something to behold, and if I wasn’t out all day swimming, cycling and running I’d instead have to employ someone to give me motivational dietary advice like ‘plug up your top hole fatty, you’re eating too much’.
Now though, my lardy ways are under threat thanks to my coach David Watson, who has decided that instead of having a diet based on the nursery rhyme ‘One potato, two, potato, three potato, four…’ I should instead have one which sees me spending a significant part of the day trying to pick pine nuts out of my teeth with my tongue. Yes, I am now on a low-carb, high (good) fat, high protein diet, and the reason behind this – apart from Dave’s observation that I might like to occasionally consider foodstuffs other than pasta – is that I, like some kind of simpleton, have signed up to do Ironman Lanzarote again this year.
I know from bitter experience there are lots of hills in Lanzarote and they make travelling any distance on something that is gravity-based very difficult, so Dave’s reason for stopping me from eating what I like is to ensure I go into the race light, lean, and in a foul temper. It‘s also got something to do with becoming more efficient at burning fat, so my performances don’t plummet faster than an X-Factor winner’s career as soon as my system runs out of carbs.
I’ve dabbled with diets before, for example the year when I attempted to increase my intake of fruit via the medium of banana daiquiris. But on this occasion (and with classic timing), I started my new eating disorder over Christmas, which is normally just one big excuse for grotesque over-consumption that sees me barely have time to put my out-of-office email on before grabbing a double fistful of Celebrations.
Changing my food intake over the festive period was as hard as any Ironman I’ve ever done because forbidden food was everywhere – in my fridge, in bowls on the sideboard, down my father-in-law’s shirt etc. And I must have looked hungry in the presence of all this off-limits grub because my dog Freddie started growling at me whenever I went near his bowl. I also had the onslaught of supermarket adverts for gluttony-inspired products to contend with, and the fact that every third thing through my letterbox is a kebab shop menu.
Dave is a very good coach who has never steered me wrong yet, so I trust his judgement entirely, but I tell you what – it’s bloody hard going. Normally my commitment to self-improvement is so small you’d have to measure it using the Large Hadron Collider, but so far I’ve stuck to my dietary task even though it’s meant not consuming the things I like most.
For example I’m always fond of a cheeky glass or two of red wine before being sick into a bin, but this has gone by the board along with all the sugary cakes I used to enjoy, and as we all know a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down – unless it’s an enema, in which case it can feel quite gritty.
My new diet has made its greatest effects felt first thing in the morning. At its best breakfast is just several handfuls of food you’d never consider eating at a more civilised time of day, but these days I’m eating gastronomic atrocities like Greek yoghurt, or muesli that looks like its been swept out of the bottom of a pigeon loft. And this commitment to eating a breakfast packed with fresh fruit and nourishing whole grains has done nothing to improve my overall existence because I’ve got the same tedious job, except I’m doing it with a few more vitamins in my bloodstream. I may as well have joined the gap-toothed provincial cretins that constitute my friends, who live their lives on the basis that a soupçon of cottage cheese is enough to completely ruin your life, and had a Mars bar and a fag, washed down with a can of lager.
Still, all this will be worth it when I hit the hills, wind, hills, road, wind and hills of Ironman Lanzarote for the third time, and if I get any lighter my biggest danger is being wafted off the end of Mirador Del Haria and floating all the way back to bloody Famara.
Read Martyn’s column in 220 Triathlon magazine for more of his monthly musings. Issue 297 is on sale now at all good newsagents, and the digital edition is available via the iTunes store, Google Play and Zinio